Kazakhstan: New controls on religious travel and literature

By Felix Corley | Forum 18

“Anti-terrorism” legal changes ignoring OSCE recommendations impose foreign religious travel controls, restrict religion book imports “for personal use” to one copy per title, and reinforce state censorship of books and materials on religion. An “anti-extremism” campaign against freedom of religion and belief is planned.

New restrictions on foreign religious travel and more explicit provisions banning and punishing the production or distribution of literature about religion in Kazakhstan without undergoing the compulsory state censorship come into force in early January, Forum 18 notes. The Law also restricts the number of copies of publications about religion an individual is allowed to import “for personal use” without being subject to state censorship. Only one copy of any individual publication can now be imported without undergoing censorship.

The new restrictions are part of a wide-ranging Law on Amendments and Additions to Various Laws on Questions of Countering Extremism and Terrorism, prepared by the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police, ostensibly aimed at fighting “extremism and terrorism”. President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed it into law on 22 December 2016. The Amending Law mostly comes into force ten days after its official publication on 27 December 2016. The Law amends five Codes and 20 individual Laws, including the 2011 Religion Law.

The Kazakh authorities ignored many recommendations from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) that restrictions on the exercise of freedom of religion or belief – particularly over censorship of literature about religion and foreign travel for religious purposes – be removed from the Amending Law and from existing Law.